Thursday, September 10, 2015

Anna Kerrigan on "The Impossibilities"

What was your filmmaking background before making The Impossibilities?

ANNA: I was one of the few theater majors at Stanford University – really quite unusual. At that time there was no practical film program, just a critical major where you watched and talked about films so I went with the theater department where I actually got to do stuff.

After graduating, I went to New York, interned at a couple of independent production companies, then worked as a production assistant on everything from Law and Order to a Bollywood film to an Ivan Reitman movie. I learned a lot on those sets but I hated the hours – it didn’t give me any time to write. I happily gave it up and started working as a barista and then a dog walker in Brooklyn. It wasn’t glamorous, but it was a fun and textured lifestyle and I had plenty of time to develop my writing, ie my voice, in the obscurity of my railroad apartment.

Eventually, I got into the New York theater scene, then wrote and directed an indie feature, a drama called Five Days Gone that I shot in Massachusetts. Five Days Gone was basically my film school: I wrote it, directed it, produced it, edited it and acted in it. It was a lot – but boy, by the end of it, there was no longer a sense of mystery surrounding the nuts and bolts of making a movie. Since then, I’ve written some great TV pilots and features, had some dead end development experiences in Hollywood, weirdly produced and cast a lot of true crime reenactments (for the cash) and then The Impossibilities happened!

Where did the idea come from and what was the writing process like? 

ANNA: In February of 2014 during the “polar vortex” that was going on in New York, I was early to meet a friend for lunch at this place called Freeman’s on the Lower Eastside. I recognized the hostess – a tall, gorgeous, hilarious girl – but didn’t know why. I struck up a conversation to figure it out and realized pretty quickly that I’d called her in about five times to play the lead in my play The Talls a few years beforehand. That could have been awkward – but somehow it wasn’t. She told me she and her fiancée wanted to make a very short film that showcased his magic abilities – he had been a professional magician as a child. I really liked her a lot, and told her that if she ever wanted to pick my brain, I’d be happy to share my experiences putting a production together.

The following Wednesday, I met those two, Kati and Ashley, who went on to be my fellow collaborators, at a restaurant in the West Village. We had a really nice time together and I gave them the advice I could. We started hanging out every Wednesday and eventually they asked me to direct the short – which I agreed to.

But the more we talked, the more I got to know them, the more I felt like the short wasn’t going to be enough. They’re both so unique and special and talented and I felt like they hadn’t had their chance to really shine in special roles. I proposed that I write something longer for them – a web series – tailoring the roles specifically to the two of them. They agreed and I wrote the first draft of the whole season all at once in a couple of weeks.

They were initially freaked out – they said it was eerie how much I had channeled of them in our relative short friendship. (Ashley “accidentally” cut off the tip of his finger after reading it – a missing finger is a big problem if you’re a magician. We still joke that he subconsciously did it so he wouldn’t have to perform any of the magic tricks.) From there, Ash and Kati gave me their thoughts and I wrote the next draft, then the next one, then the next one – four drafts in all.

After we cast the rest of the roles, I scheduled brief rehearsals with all the actors to read through their individual scenes. It’s very helpful for me to hear the dialogue out loud, make changes and cuts while I’m with the actors, and then have them read it back through again. I probably like this way of working because of my theater background. I guess it’s a luxury in film or something to have rehearsals, but I think it saves you so much time in production as well as in the editing room.

Why did you choose to make this project as a web series as opposed to a feature?

ANNA: I never even fathomed making it as a feature. These are characters that I love and I immediately thought up countless adventures for them. I honestly didn’t know how to contain all that in an hour and a half.

Can you talk about how you raised your budget and your distribution plan for recouping your costs?

ANNA: Ashley and Kati funded the series with the money they received from their wedding (they got married last summer). It’s very romantic – and maybe a little bit crazy – but I’m glad they took that risk because I think it’ll pay off for all of us.

Our plan was always to self-produce and self-release so that we maintained creative control over the show, then create an audience and figure out what our options are from there for the second season. I think eventually we’ll recoup, but we always knew it would take awhile. We’re talking to different platforms now about possibly funding a second season. And if no one bites, then we’ll crowdfund for Season Two.

How did you cast the series and did the script change much once you had your cast in place?

ANNA: Apart from Ash and Kati, we had a few other actors in mind. Since all three of us have been in the theater and film community of New York for awhile, we pooled our contacts and called in friends and friends of friends for roles we thought they might be right for. Additionally, we worked with an awesome casting director, Alison Twardziak, who helped us find actors for a couple of children’s roles and a smattering of other characters we were having trouble with.

What kind of camera did you use to shoot the series -- and what did you love about it and hate about it?

ANNA: Our two DPs, Dagmar Weaver-Madsen and Chris Heinrich, shot with two C300s. I wanted the show to look composed, naturally lit and feel no frills – and the images accomplished all those things. The C300 is a pretty laid back camera, flexible to various lighting conditions. And our two DPs did a fantastic job with it.

How much did the series change in the editing process and why did you make the changes you did?

ANNA: My editor, Jarrah Gurrie and I, cut a few things that were redundant and divided one episode into two episodes (initially there were only seven episodes – now there are eight). We played around a lot with looks and pauses – I didn’t want it to be rapid fire line-line-line! – so much of the humor and the humanity of these characters is in what’s not said.

What was the smartest thing you did during production? The dumbest?

ANNA: The smartest thing we did was shoot all the episodes at once like a feature. We crossboarded the whole script and shot over the course of thirteen days.

The dumbest was that we didn’t really have an AD or on set producer. We were too frugal to pay someone what they deserved for those roles and it made it very difficult on Ash, Kati and I – and I’m sure the rest of the crew as well. Don’t get me wrong – we actually made our days and everything – but the three of us had way too many responsibilities when we really should have just been focused on directing and acting at that point.

And, finally, what did you learn from making this series that you will take to other projects?

ANNA: I’ll trust my gut instinct without question. I’m also someone who hates conflict, but when you’re working closely with a group of people, you obviously won’t agree on everything and that’s okay. Great decisions come out of compromise. I’ve become much more comfortable broaching creative differences in a productive, sometimes even fun, manner. 

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